French Roast Apocalypse – Chapter 01
New York City, 2010
It was a brisk autumn evening, and Central Park was lit by its swan-necked street lamps with decorative heads. The sun had set, casting long shadows across the winding tarmac sidewalks and dirt paths. The air was ominously still, and very few people were out on this early October evening. Not that Dylan O’Reily, once of Texas, now of New York, blamed them; occasionally bad things happened in the park.
The young blond-haired man lifted his head, tilting his Stetson to get a better look at the brush around him. It was scrubby, filled with prickly shrubs with bright red, orange and small yellow-leafed bushes. All around him were an assortment of trees ranging from tall elms to cherry, oak and red maple.
“I’m telling you, Dyl, the lady I talked to said it dragged her kid from his bike, right into these bushes.” The tall blacked-skinned youth beside him said. He looped a thumb into his belt buckle and pointed to some broken twigs and scuffed dirt off the side of the road. “There, see?”
Dylan frowned. “And she didn’t go to the cops… why?” He walked over to the spot where the young man indicated and studied the ground. There were signs of a weighted form — a child’s body — and a struggle. Several branches were snapped, and the grass and leaves on the ground were dug into. He noticed deep-set heel marks, as if the child was leaning back, pulling away from something hard. There was no sign of the something — and anything you’d pull that hard away from would have to weigh quite a bit.
There were droplets of blood on the ground. Dylan dropped into a crouch and touched them. It was dry, but he could smell the iron of human blood even now. That wasn’t as impossible as someone else might think: he wasn’t human himself. He had given that up years ago.
“And say what, exactly, Dyl? A shadow dog from hell attacked her toddler and pulled him off his trike? Cops would think she’s on something, and arrest her just for the hell of it.” Angelus fixed him with a steely glare. “Look, bro, it was hard enough to get her to tell me about it! Lady was scared; hell, if I didn’t speak Spanish we wouldn’t know any of this!”
Dylan had known Angelus since he was a child. His father was a biracial Italian who had immigrated with his family from Calabria, Italy, in the 30s. They were welcomed in Harlem when the Italians in Little Italy had shunned them and over the years developed a very close-knit community. Angelus took the people in his neighborhood very seriously and when one of them was harmed, he was there to help. The situation in Central Park involved a neighbor of his. “So, how’d she scare the thing off?”
“She tossed the trike at it.” Angelus explained. “It’s a hand-me-down.”
Hand-me-down trike. Means solid steel frame, not cheap plastics, aluminum, or expensive composites. Might have saved their lives. “Yours?” Dylan asked, curious.
“Nah, one of my cousins’.” Angelus backed away from the brush and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket. “It ran like hell after, but… poor Carmen. He’s still sick, pale as a ghost. Had her take him to the Center in SoHo.”
The Center was a hospital set up by Liam, an eccentric vampire highblood who also happened to be Dylan’s current sponsor, to help treat mortals who were infected or harmed by the paranormal world. Dylan wondered how Angelus’s neighbor would react to discovering the world wasn’t what she was raised believing it was. “Bunny will take care of them.”
“Doesn’t she always?” Angelus said. “So, you’re the expert, what do you think it is?”
“You said she described a hellhound?” Together the two young men walked up the path, toward the bow bridge. Angelus had described it as a shadow. There were many shadowy dog-like creatures in myths. It was just a matter of guessing which one.
“She said it looked like a ‘fantasma’, a ghost. Black, with a skull head, and she could see though it.” As he talked, Angelus waved his hands in Italian fashion. “It’s a monster, and not one of our kind, Dylan. So what do we do?”
“‘We’? I’m the monster hunter, dude, you’re a troublemaker.”
“Expert troublemaker,” corrected Angelus with a hint of offense. What Angelus did shook up a lot of politicians and Highbloods in the city. “And if I didn’t ruffle some feathers, we’d lose all of East Harlem to Blackwell’s people, and Jason and I’ve invested a lot of time, guts, and money reviving the community.”
“I hear you.” The corruption in New York was bad enough with the mortals. Toss in supernatural organized crime, economic and political corruption, and the gang wars became nightmarish. Angelus was always fighting to preserve his territory as head vampire in Harlem, just like Dylan had to defend his territory in Upper Manhattan.
The difference was, Dylan was a revenant. Revenants were never acknowledged as having any territorial power; they were considered monsters even by vampires, not really “people”. Dylan was the first, and only because Liam had supported him when he made the claim. “I know you’re a big boy, Angelus,” Dylan said, glancing at his friend. It was funny every time he looked at Angelus, he thought of the five-year-old boy he’d first met in the SoHo Rehabilitation center thirty-four years ago. “But these kind of things aren’t something you just throw a few bullets at.”
“Felicia tossed a trike at it, Dyl. This isn’t rocket science here, how hard can it be?”
They were approaching a clearing, and Dylan saw the white railed Bow Bridge before them. “We’re undead. Sometimes these things can affect us more than the mortals. Some of the things this could be drain souls. It might be able to just shut a guy like you right off.”
He didn’t want to risk seeing his friend hurt. They had hunted together once before, a long time ago, and Angelus had paid for it with his mortal existence.
“Drains souls? Should narrow it down.”
Dylan rolled his eyes. “Some drain souls, I said. A reaper? Maybe a barghest?” Dylan had dealt with a few of those in his past.
The memory sparked another. Barghests liked victims who were already ill. “Is Carmen sick? I mean, was he sick before the attack?”
“How’d you guess? Pediatric leukemia, but he’s not going to die. He’s responding well to his chemo.”
Damn. It was a barghest. Dylan stopped and turned back around to face the road behind them. It was shaded overhead by an arch of trees, a tunnel of darkness. Barghests liked to travel in shadows. He squinted, hoping to see something moving in the gloom.
Nothing. Only the rustle of branches, and the creak of the tree trunks in the wind, but deep in the pit of his gut, he felt it. The barghest lurked somewhere out there, waiting. Legend had it they were large green wolflike hounds, but Dylan knew better; they were closer to the Black Dogs of English myth.
The sky above rumbled. Frowning, Dylan peered up. His head ached, and his gut tightened. Something was wrong, very, very wrong. Gingerly, the revenant touched his brow, and slipped his fingers to the side of his head. The pain grew, and his vision doubled as if he were having a very bad migraine. Except that dead men didn’t have migraines.
“Bro, what’s the matter?” Angelus asked. He touched the older man’s shoulder, concern on his face.
He couldn’t answer, he didn’t know if he was okay. For a moment, he was somewhere else, looking across a landscape of ruins; buildings, crumbled bricks, and cars. Dust drifted in the air as stones trickled from shattered remains of apartment buildings and businesses. Rain showered down from a dark sky.
The vision shifted; now there were felled trees, and the broken ruins of iron fences and marble colonnades.
What in God’s name was he seeing — and why?
Static energy tingled and buzzed in the air, and he felt electric pulses of power grow and wane around him. It was as if the entire area were alive.
A shiver swept his spine as he heard the crackle of lighting in the sky above and the rumble of thunder.
Dylan shook his head and closed his eyes. It had been decades since he had any visions. He thought they had stopped forever when he became a revenant. His Sight hadn’t worked the same since he changed.
“I’m okay; just a feeling.” A very bad feeling. Something happened, or was about to happen. Where he had no clue. It was unsettling. Dylan wished he had more information. Peering up to the sky, he watched droplets of rain spill down from the clouds. “Looks like a storm is coming.”
Angelus snorted and folded his arms. “Coming? It’s already here.”